When you grow up thinking a certain way how do you unlearn that? I am now discovering several things my mother taught me at a young age are not right. And when there are layers and layers of childhood trauma, you can only deal with them one trauma at a time, unless, that is, something happens that you can’t avoid.
I should start by saying both of my parents are/were Puerto Rican. My dad is dark-skinned and my mom — she passed away over 30 years ago — was light-skinned. Several years ago, I realized that many of the things my mom embedded in my brain could be considered racist. For example, when I was little, every time my mom styled my hair, she would tell me to make sure I married a white man so my kids would have “good” hair. Years and years of that indoctrination became part of my truth. It was hard for me to describe black babies as cute because of their “bad” hair. I was mainly attracted to white guys because, well, my mom — even though she was dead — told me I should. I eventually did have a son with a white man, and my son, indeed, has “good” hair.
I should explain what my mother qualified as “good” hair. Now, I am not completely certain, because she never came out and said it, but I assume it is hair like the one pictured below which I found in an article called “The Cutest 90s Haircuts & Haircuts that are Trending today”.
Unlike my hair which would take my mom hours to style. It wasn’t until I was 10 years old when I had my first relaxer (chemical straightening treatment) that she was less critical of my hair. It still took (and takes) a long time to style, but with a relaxer, it was much easier to manage. After she passed when I was 14, was when I realized the “chore” it was to do my hair. For years I worked hard to keep my hair As. Straight. As. Possible.
I did, however, wear my hair in braids in the late 90s, when it was cool and in style to do so.
Otherwise, I have always wanted the unattainable, easy-to-manage hair that mainstream America has made popular. Sadly, I never realized this was wrong thinking until the social unrest hit the fan in 2020 and I made the following post on Facebook…
I felt God was working out the junk of my childhood programming as He was doing for many others. Shortly after I made the above post, I received a private message from an old coworker who said I had offended several years prior.
This gracious interaction has remained with me, but to be honest, I don’t know how to undo what I have been taught since childhood. I mentioned this is part of a long strand of childhood trauma, mainly from my mother, which I am working with an amazing counselor and the Holy Spirit to undo, but sometimes things hit so hard that I just need to write and work it out.
Mid-last year, I stopped applying relaxers to my hair. The transition has been a difficult one. I love natural-looking hair. I love the natural waves and curls that I believe my hair has, but have no idea how to get them back.
This weekend I had an appointment with my stylist and I told her that I wanted to embrace my curls, but because of the relaxers, my hair is stunted and doesn’t know how to curl. She recommended until my hair grows out completely, I should braid my hair regularly to encourage it to curl. We decided we would start the process with her braiding my hair. I let her decide how to best do it. She decided to do cornrows. This made me so nervous because (I am being fully transparent) I consider this a “black” hairstyle and wondered how I would be perceived.
Again, all of the negative talks from my mother and our culture rushed into my head, “I can’t go to work looking like this. What will they think?” I plan to keep the cornrows in during the Holiday weekend and take them out on Tuesday before going back to work so my hair can be the curls I desire. But I wrestle and think should I wear the cornrows just to see the reaction, if any? Would I be treated differently? Would I be told (although I believe it is discriminatory to do so) that I can’t wear my hair like this? Disclaimer: I don’t believe any of this would happen, but it is where my brain goes.
I also wonder, what does this say about me? What is wrong with me? How can a woman of my age, be so ignorant?
What I am looking for from this post? First of all, grace. Many people have biases but they are afraid to share them for the fear of being shamed. Be gracious, please. I am admitting my bias is wrong and I am seeking change. Secondly, am I alone in this thinking? Am I the only that struggles with reprogramming my brain to think ALL hair is beautiful and no matter what I was taught, my hair is beautiful, too?
My poor therapist…please pray for him!